Italian News Report

Ben Keayes - 06/03/2007

Paraglider survives three days dangling upside down in a tree
(Maurizio Degli Innocenti)

Antonio Montagno being taken to hospital after his three-day ordeal

Richard Owen, Rome
An Italian paraglider was recovering in hospital yesterday after crashing in high winds into a mountain forest — and hanging upside down in a tree for three days.

Antonio Montagno, 47, crashed last Thursday after launching himself from a height of 2,700ft (820m) on Monte Mignaio near Florence.

After an intensive search he was found on Sunday at a height of 1,220m in the Vallombrosa forest, dangling at the top of a giant beech tree, with his right leg trapped in the tangled ropes of his glider.

Yesterday Mr Montagno, an experienced paraglider, was in intensive care at Careggi hospital in Florence suffering from hypothermia, dehydration and kidney failure. Doctors operated on the badly damaged muscle tissue of his leg and said they were confident that he would survive.

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Carlo Nozzoli, the head doctor at Careggi hospital, said that Mr Montagno had been found just in time. “People can survive three to four days without eating, but not without drinking,” he said.

Mr Montagna had been helped by the mild winter weather and because no bones were broken in the fall. Originally from Catania in Sicily, Mr Montagno, a microbiologist, lives in Tuscany with his wife Antonella and their four-year-old twins, Elisa and Davide.

Mrs Montagno told reporters that when she heard her husband was missing she vowed to “punch him on the nose when they find him, to make sure he doesn’t frighten me like this ever again”.

When she saw him grimacing in pain on the way to the hospital she had “simply given thanks that he was still alive. The twins will see their father again, and that is all that matters.” She said she had never doubted that he would be found, telling friends: “He’s probably stuck up a tree somewhere, but he’s still alive, I just know it.”

The drama began at midday on Thursday when Mr Montagno, a devotee of “extreme sports” for 20 years, took off in his paraglider alongside a fellow enthusiast.

Friends who were waiting at the base camp raised the alarm when they realised that Mr Montagno had failed to land. The search, coordinated by the Alpine Rescue Service, involved two helicopters and 200 people, including wild-boar hunters, forest rangers and civil protection volunteers.

The search was hampered by fog and it was not until Sunday that a helicopter pilot spotted the paraglider’s red and white canopy.Mr Montagno had been swept up by high winds and had opened his second parachute before crashing into the tree. Rescuers said that he was protected from the cold by his flying suit.

When one of them shouted: “Are you all right, Antonio?” he replied: “Are you going to get me down from here or not?”

He told rescuers that he had feared the branches of the tree would snap under his weight. Doctors said that he appeared confused, and there was a risk of cerebral haemorrhage after such a long period upside down.

Mr Montagno’s brother, Sebastiano, who travelled from Sicily to help the search, said: “Antonio loves adventure and has flown a lot in extreme conditions.” He said that Mr Montagno had twice been involved in accidents, once breaking a leg and on another occasion cracking a vertebra.

“When he gets out of hospital I’m going to tell him to give up gliding and get a mountain bike. I don’t suppose for a moment he’ll pay the slightest attention.”

Last year 80 paragliding accidents were recorded in Italy, many involving turbulence and collisions with telephone and power lines.


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